Jeanne Liedtka Outthinkers Podcast

Design Thinking: Unleashing Creativity in Business

Jeanne Liedtka is the Professor of Business at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business,  where she teaches both MBAs and executives, as well as consulting on innovation, organic growth and design thinking. Jeanne, has served as Associate Dean of the MBA Program at Darden, Executive Director of the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation, and Chief Learning Officer at United Technologies Corporation, and consulted with a diverse set of organizations including IBM, Samsung, NASA, The United Nations, and the government of Singapore.

Jeanne’s interests lie at the intersection of strategy and design. She has written eight books, including her most recent: The Experimentation Field Book: A Step-by-Step Project Guide, and many articles on the subject of strategy, innovation, and design thinking.

She recently joined the Outthinkers Podcast to discuss:

  • The concept of design thinking—her area of expertise—which provides the structure, tools, and processes needed to unlock creativity
  • How to strike a balance between risk aversion and meticulous planning with innovation
  • The interesting paradox of needing data to make decisions, but not over-relying on data to the point where innovation is stifled

Listen to the full episode here.

Strategic Conversations: The Heart of Shaping the Future

Companies are familiar with strategies that we write on paper, but the heart of change and shaping a new future lies in strategic conversations. These dialogues transcend the traditional confines of senior-level strategizing. They extend to every level of the organization. The goal is to embed a deep understanding of each individual’s role in executing the strategy and foster an environment where everyone is equipped with the necessary structures, processes, and information to initiate behavior change.

This is the essence of strategic success—altering behaviors to bridge the gap between the current state and envisioned future. The journey begins with a design conversation, exploring a portfolio of future possibilities, followed by an experimentation loop that fine-tunes the balance between strategy and execution. In this era, the ability to experiment and iterate is paramount.

The Nature of Design Thinking

Design thinking offers a fresh perspective on strategy development, distinct from traditional business analytics in three fundamental ways:

  1. Empathy at the Forefront: Unlike conventional strategies that prioritize organizational needs, design thinking starts with empathy towards the people you’re designing for. This foundation ensures that strategies are not only organization-centric but also deeply human-centric, acknowledging the emotional and functional value they seek.
  2. Possibility-Driven Approach: Design thinking encourages us to look beyond the obvious, recognizing that value is not just functional, it’s also emotional. Differentiation relies on being able to articulate needs that have not yet been generally discovered in the marketplace.
  3. The Iterative Expectation: This methodology is inherently iterative, beginning with a broad portfolio of possibilities. It emphasizes learning to discern which avenues to abandon and which to invest in more deeply, fostering a culture of innovation and resilience.

The Creative Power of Constraints

A paradigm shift is recognizing that constraints are not barriers but catalysts for creativity. The challenge in large organizations is not the scarcity of new ideas but the ability to navigate these ideas through organizational structures and market realities. This necessitates a balance between creativity and the operational demands of running a business, highlighting the need for a dual skill set in innovation leadership.

Hypothesis-Driven Methodology: Beyond Yes or No

The transition from “what is” to “what might be” requires a leap of faith that transcends linear thinking and historical data. Design logic and hypothesis-driven methodologies ask not whether an idea is good or bad but what we would need to know to move forward with confidence. This process involves framing testable ideas, defining evidence, selecting tests, building prototypes, and executing a cycle of analysis and iteration.

Value Propositions over Products

A common pitfall in strategy execution is testing products rather than value propositions. A product idea alone cannot constitute a testable hypothesis; it’s the value proposition—identifying the target audience and their needs—that should be tested. This approach prevents over investing in experimentation and minimum viable products, optimizing resource allocation and speeding up the innovation process.


By embracing the principles of design thinking, strategy leaders can navigate the complexities of today’s uncertain environment with agility and insight. The path to success is paved with strategic conversations, empathy, iterative design, and experimentation. This is the new frontier of strategic innovation, where conversations, creativity, and curiosity intersect to create a tomorrow that reshapes today.

Listen to the full episode.

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